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Out of Egypt: A Memoir Paperback – April 1, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 339 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Trade; Lst Riverhead ed edition (April 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573225347
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573225342
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,846,508 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When Aciman, born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt, was asked his nationality as a boy, he automatically replied, "French." His confusion was understandable; his family were Sephardic Jews who had wandered from Italy to Turkey, then settled in Egypt. His father owned a woolen mill and his parents were very rich, as were the rest of the exotic clan who lived with them or gathered regularly for elegant, memorable teas, fetes and fierce but transient squabbling. Like Russian nobility of old, they disdained the common language. Few of them learned Arabic but preferred French, English, Ladino or Italian. They concealed their Jewishness when Nasser was in power, a time of high Arab nationalism, intense anti-Semitism and then war. Eventually they fled to Paris, leaving behind much of their wealth but little of their culture, which Aciman-his mother's darling, his teachers' despair, his father's worry, a child spy in a house of eccentric, cultivated adults-here recalls with a magical sensibility streaked with antic humor. A marvelous memento of a place, time and people that have all disappeared.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Aciman presents a rich and captivating portrait of a Jewish family from cosmopolitan Alexandria, Egypt. From their arrival there at the turn of the century until their departure three generations later, the members of Aciman's clan experienced adventures and harrowing disappointments. Their stories are in many ways similar to those of other Jewish families in vanishing communities throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Most impressive among the siblings is Uncle Villy, who led a colorful life as a British spy, Italian fascist, and soldier. Aunt Flora, a refugee from Germany, maintains a rather pessimistic philosophy about life. With this memoir, the author in part redeems the social life, customs, and history of a community that barely exists today amid an inhospitable milieu, due to political turmoil in close and remote lands. This is not simply another nostalgic account but a well-written and touching depiction of life in a community that has almost ceased to be. Highly recommended for most collections.
Ali Houissa, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, N.Y.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

André Aciman was born in Alexandria, Egypt and is an American memoirist, essayist, novelist, and scholar of seventeenth-century literature. He has also written many essays and reviews on Marcel Proust. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The New Republic, Condé Nast Traveler, The Paris Review, Granta as well as in many volumes of The Best American Essays.

Aciman grew up in a multilingual and multinational family and attended English-language schools, first in Alexandria and later, after his family moved to Italy in 1965, in Rome. In 1968, Aciman's family moved again, this time to New York City, where he graduated in 1973 from Lehman College. Aciman received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University and, after teaching at Princeton University and Bard College, is Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York. He is currently chair of the Ph. D. Program in Comparative Literature and founder and director of The Writers' Institute at the Graduate Center. He has also taught creative writing at New York University, Cooper Union, and and Yeshiva University. In 2009, Aciman was also Visiting Distinguished Writer at Wesleyan University.

Aciman is the author of the Whiting Award-winning memoir Out of Egypt (1995), an account of his childhood as a Jew growing up in post-colonial Egypt. His books and essays have been translated in many languages. In addition to Out of Egypt (1995), Aciman has published False Papers: Essays in Exile and Memory (2001) and Alibis: Essays on Elswhere (2011), and three novels, Harvard Square (2013), Eight White Nights (2010) and Call Me By Your Name (2007), for which he won the Lambda Literary Award for Men's Fiction (2008). He also edited Letters of Transit (1999) and The Proust Project (2004) and prefaced Monsieur Proust (2003), The Light of New York (2007), Condé Nast Traveler's Room With a View (2010) and Stefan Zweig's Journey to the Past (2010).

He is currently working on a novel tentatively entitled Enigma.

Customer Reviews

This is a very interesting book.
Reader
It's a love song, a paean, to the kind of world that both produced, and allowed to flourish, Aciman's family.
Jim Palmer
It has been a while since I read this book, but I recently gave it as a gift.
B. Blair

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By AA on August 14, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Andre Aciman's Out of Egypt is an amazing book, I found it very hard to put down. At a time of increased hostility in the middle east it is heartwarming to read of a time when Jews lived in peace with their Muslim and Christian neighbors in Alexandria. Not a whiff of anti Jewish sentiments was reported by Aciman until after the Suez War. Aciman and his family left Egypt in the sixties.

Aciman, like many "Egyptian" Jews preferred to hold European nationalities and in some cases some were French or Italian without ever setting foot in these countries. Europeans had their own courts in Egypt and did not fall under Egyptian Laws. For Aciman, born and raised in Egypt and in many ways no different than many affluent Alexandrians life became unbearable after the waves of Nationalization in the early 60's.

Aciman writes of an Alexandria that no longer exists not just for Egyptian Jews. The population explosion in Egypt has transformed Alexandria beyond recognition; hence Aciman's beautiful writing of Alexandria, its beaches and its tram will bring floods of memories for anyone who's known Alexandria.

Affluent Egyptian Jews who left Egypt in the fifties and sixties are not immediately thought of as refugees and there is little discussion on their issues of identity and affiliation in Egypt and elsewhere. Aciman through his acute sensitivity to the people and events around him and his wonderful story telling skills has produced beautifully written and very touching book that subtly challenges many assumptions on all sides.

Readers will see the very same Alexandria in Leila Ahmed's Border Passage and in parts of Ahdaf Souief's In the Eye of the Sun. Enjoy
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
A really absorbing memoir, reminiscent in some ways of Nabokov's "Speak, Memory". Neither sentimental nor self indulgent, clear-eyed, humorous, yet moving and truly interesting. Having lived in Egypt myself around the same time (albeit in Cairo, not Alexandria), I was touched by recognition of places and types: a world "gone with the wind". That is of course very personal, but I believe this book should appeal to any one with a little curiosity about other places, people, times.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Jim Palmer on April 26, 2010
Format: Paperback
From the very first sentence, Andre Aciman's "Out of Egypt" sucks the reader into the maelstrom of personalities that made up his family--and, more broadly, the city that gave them rise: the whirlwind of peoples, languages, creeds, and nationalities that made up old Alexandria, once the most cosmopolitan city on the Mediterranean.

Aciman's family--Jews from Spain via Italy and, most recently, Turkey, who intermarry with Jews from Syria and Germany--are, in and of themselves, a microcosm of bustling, polyglot Alexandria, and what a magnificently sketched crew they all are: Swaggering Uncle Vili, acid Uncle Isaac, calculating Uncle Nessim, melancholy Aunt Flora, bankers, salesmen, auctioneers, musicians, the idle rich, billiard hall proprietors and bicycle shop owners, and, most memorably, his two grandmothers, the Saint and the Princess, who, as the back blurb informs us, "gossip in seven languages." They comprise as flamboyant and eccentric a family as one can imagine--a joy to read about, with a tale as rich a family saga as any in literature. Theirs is a world scented by the tang of the sea blowing over white-sand beaches; sprawling apartments full of objets d'art tended to by generations of Arab servants; balmy Mediterranean evenings spent on spacious balconies nibbling dips, olives, artichokes, and cheeses and sipping raki, and hobnobbing with the city's European elite, whom they simultaneously despise and try desperately to emulate.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Judith M. Taylor on July 12, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
REVIEW OF "OUT OF EGYPT" for Amazon.com July 12, 2007

Andre Aciman describes his colorful and complicated life (and family)in
Alexandria in the 1960s. Childhoods like that are often the preparation
for a life of writing. The child absorbs all the peculiarities as part of
normal life without knowing they are peculiar until much later. Then they
need to make sense of it all.
All this is heightened by the fact that the Acimans are Jewish, in a
Muslim country still resonating with the after effects of British rule.His
experiences in the theoretically best school in Alexandria, run by
British teachers, would be funny if they weren't so awful. For complete
cognitive dissonance,his parents force him to learn Arabic to survive.
Reading about those lessons alone is worth the price of this book. At
home they speak Ladino, the Sephardic Yiddish, among themselves.
His beautful mother was born deaf. When provoked she can produce a
high-pitched scream. used to good effect at the butcher's. Once she has
made her point they are all quite happy. The butcher has to give the package
to her Arab servant. She never touches an Arab's hand.
The Acimans and Andre's maternal relatives live in a state of mutual
scorn, but when faced with the threats of Pan-Arab nationalism pull together very
efficiently. Eventually they all flee, the sedate Sephardic merchants
and the shady international adventurers too.
Two other writers come to mind when reading this book. Laurence Durrell
evokes something of the same atmosphere in his Alexandria Quartet and Elias
Canetti grew up in a large Sephardic family in Bulgaria. That society has
completely disappeared. Without Canetti's memoirs one would not know it had ever
existed.
This is an eloquent and elegiac account of that love and absurdity
known as a family.
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